The High Cost Of Eyesight

Do you wear eyeglasses?  Depending upon which statistics you believe, around 60 to 70 percent of the world’s population now needs some kind of corrective lenses due to poor eyesight.

It gets worse as we age too — The older we get, the more likely we are to need glasses.

This global phenomenon is a relatively new development — Back in the stone ages, poor eyesight was largely limited to the elderly.  Anybody who couldn’t see, tended to die-off pretty quickly.

Even 40 years back, half as many people needed glasses in the United States.

Many scientists believe this huge increase in nearsightedness (myopia) is due to changes in our modern human lifestyle.  For one, people spend a lot more time looking at screens today (like laptops, cell phones, and televisions) than they used to.

Other theories suggest that sunlight is a factor — we now largely work indoors instead of outdoors.  Typically in darker environments where our eyes might be strained.

okinawa rocks grass
In the past, did sunlight and longer focus distances keep our eyes from becoming nearsighted?  It’s all theories at this point.

While none of the theories have been conclusively proven, it is very true that more people need vision correction than ever before.

The cost of regular eyesight correction is now a financial requirement for many people.  It’s yet another financial burden in our modern lives.  But don’t be fooled …

This is a cost you can attack!!


High-Priced Eye Exams

I got my first pair of glasses when I was in middle school.  I remember it clearly (despite the fuzzy vision).  I could no longer read the chalkboard at school and I complained to my parents.  About a week later I had my first pair of glasses, and my initial entry into the ‘nerd club’.

Ever since those days, I’ve needed an annual eye exam, and a fresh pair of glasses just to see.  My prescription changes every year, requiring a fresh exam and fresh set of glasses (or contacts).

While this doesn’t sound very frugal, I always chalked-it-up to being “my lot in life”.  Eventually I got used to the high prices that optometrists charged…

To save money (as a poor college student),  I would sometimes try to economize by skipping my annual exam and foregoing my annual pair of new glasses.  As you’d guess, I was stuck for a year with the wrong prescription.

Heachaches and tired eyes were the result.

After college, (when money was more abundant) I got back into the habit of heading to my local optometrist and getting an eye exam plus new glasses (or contacts) every year.  Being able to see is required for work, right?

optometrist store
A typical optometrist ‘store’ with rows of glasses on display. Watch out for the high prices.  These guys are sharks.

Ironically, once I resumed going regularly to an eye doctor, I was largely blind to the costs.

This was a huge mistake.

As Carlos Sicupira once said, “Costs are like fingernails; you have to cut them constantly.”

I really should have been paying more attention — year after year my optometrist raised her annual exam fees  — to the point where I almost choked when I saw the prices last year– my annual eye exam alone cost $280.

What did I get for this outrageous fee?  A few automated tests performed by a college kid, and then another 10 minutes with the optometrist to manually validate the automated prescription.  That’s pretty much it.

What I didn’t realize is over the last 30 years, prescription eyeglasses have now become a commodity.  Almost everybody on the planet is going to need glasses at some point in their life, and the process is now extremely automated.

There is zero difference between the optometrist at your local mall, the one at Costco, or that fancy optometrist office I’d been going to for years —  They all run the same tests and use exactly the same automated machines to determine your prescription.

The difference in price largely comes down to real estate and profit margins.


Eye Care Is A Commodity

Just like any other business, my local optometrist was running her “store” for maximum profit.  She setup a fancy looking office, filled it with premium eyeglass products, and then set prices as she saw fit.

But remember — Eye care is now largely a commodity.  Most optometric offices use automated machines called an automatic refractor/keratometer to measure your prescription.  In a matter of seconds this device can map the surface of your eye, test for an astigmatism, and print-out your prescription.

automatic refractors
Automatic refractors now do most of the work in determining your prescription. It takes a matter of seconds, and modern versions are largely accurate.

To test for other eye problems like glaucoma, similar automated devices are now used by non-optometrists to produce very accurate results.

Does a “high-cost” optometrist office provide better service than a cheaper store?  From what I can tell, it’s largely not true — For most people, the machines are going to do most of the work.

Unless you have unusual eyesight problems, there really is little difference between the high-cost optometrist and a low cost store.  Maybe the chairs are a little nicer at the high-cost store.

In my case, I’ve wasted thousands of dollars over the years going to the same overpriced optometrist that’s been selling me commodity services at premium prices.  ARGH!!!

It’s not just the eye exams that are expensive either — Glasses and contacts are also sold at significant premiums.

Take for example, my newest pair of glasses — My optometrist carried an assortment of fancy high-priced designer frames.  Being a frugal guy, I simply skipped the rack of $300 designer frames and went over to the “bargain” shelf instead.  I picked out a frame on-sale for $100.

my new glasses with blue light filter
My new glasses. The frame is from OVVO Optics, a German eyeglass manufacturer.  They’re super light, at 0.6 ounces; made from nylon and a steel-titanium alloy. It’s fancy stuff, but was on sale.  The faint yellow tint is the blue light coating.

That’s a good deal, right?  After I added-in a pair of lenses with the blue-light blocking filter (I spend a lot of time on the computer), my latest pair of eyeglasses added up to $288.  Yikes!

I also wear contact lenses regularly, so I purchased a one year supply.  The cost? $240 at my local optometrist.

The final bill was $808.  Ouch!  I think my jaw must have hit the floor when I saw the total.


Shop Around

Thankfully, that large bill was the right “kick in the ass” I needed to see the light.   I’ve been very negligent in optimizing this area of my life… until now!

Commodities (of course) are supposed to be cheap — After that ridiculous bill, I called around to my local optometrists to find out what everybody was charging.  I should have been doing this years ago!  

What did I find?  Costco was easily the cheapest in my area.  As much as bloggers like myself, Root of Good, and Tawcan have been poo-poo’ing on Costco lately, their optometry department is actually quite affordable.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

the cost of glasses comparison

Yes, the Costco price is less than half of what I paid at the fancy-pants optometrist.  The savings alone is worth the price of my annual Costco membership.

Everyone who wears corrective lenses needs to be shopping around for the best prices, just like buying groceries.  It only needs to be done once a year!

The savings are worth the effort to make a few calls.


Important Caveats

I’m the first to admit that I’ve been overpaying for years.  But I could cut my costs even further by going exclusively to contacts OR glasses.  The middle of the road situation I exist in today where I get both glasses and contacts, is overly expensive.

Why do I do this?  I simply feel like I see better with contacts.  I also tend to get fewer headaches and have less eye-strain when I wear contacts.  To save money, I could easily pick one option or the other, but I’m willing to pay the higher cost to get both.

It’s also worth considering other methods to correct myopia — For people who’s prescription doesn’t change frequently (unlike mine), laser eye surgery is a viable option.  The average cost per eye is roughly $2,000-$3,000, making it quite expensive.  Given a long enough time period however, this option could save you money.

Unfortunately, the ravages of time can’t be stopped — Even if your eyes are perfect right now (or you received LASIK surgery), time is going to catch up to you.  Most people will eventually need glasses for reading due to a condition called presbyopia.

No matter what you do, there seems to be no escape from the cost of good eyesight.

It’s now time to turn the topic over to the readers — How much do you pay for exams, glasses, or contacts?


[Image Credit: Flickr]

43 thoughts on “The High Cost Of Eyesight

  • January 31, 2018 at 3:41 AM

    Hey Mr. Tako,

    Have you ever tried Warby Parker? I have a post coming out about them soon for where I get my cheap lenses. They’re $95 INCLUDING the cost of lenses (and I have astigmatism too!). You pick out 5 pairs you like online and they mail them to you to try on for free. There’s even a little quiz and they have Asian glasses too (our nose bridges are flat so it’s hard to wear some of those other glasss).

    You then mail back the 5 try-on pairs and you order your new glasses. You can upload your glasses prescription or just take a picture of it. It was simple + the cheapest I’ve ever found. They have pretty good customer service too. I think I was super busy in college one year and kept the 5 tryon for a few months bc I forgot to mail them back and they never charged me (I did eventually it just took a few months).

    • January 31, 2018 at 3:46 AM

      I’m aware of all the online retailers that sell glasses cheaply, but as per my blog policy I DO NOT recommend products I’ve never tried.

      That said, I’ve heard pretty good things about the various online discounters. One caveat though — I’ve also heard the discount frames aren’t as sturdy.

      • January 31, 2018 at 4:12 AM

        Ahh, gotcha :). I usually have my glasses for about a year before I get new frames/lenses because apparently my eyesight is still changing (just waiting on it to keep still so I can finally get some lasik and be done with this!). These do feel sturdy, as I’ve rolled over them a few times when I was taking afternoon naps!

        It’s also amazing how one company (Luxottica) controls almost the entire glasses market. Why should glasses, which probably cost a few dollars to manufacture as they’re just plastic and some metal, cost us so much? Why should the lenses, which are automatically made, cost so much as well? I’m looking forward to the day Japan (probably) invents a little eye-exam booth, where a robot guides you through the exam. No waiting, no grumpy people, and please only charge like $25.

        • January 31, 2018 at 4:16 AM

          Funny enough, glasses are actually super cheap in Japan. A place called JINS is super popular. The exam, and glasses cost about $45 USD and the process is largely automated. Start to finish in under an hour.

          • January 31, 2018 at 4:24 AM

            Oh, wow!

            I just looked them up, they’re in Cali and online. Apparently they’re $60 here with a bunch of upgrades on lenses for $60+, and the eye exam is extra. Not bad! Maybe they’re working on the robot to get approvals in the US :D.

    • January 31, 2018 at 6:24 AM

      There is a Warby Parker store near our place. I have been meaning to drop by and check out a few pairs, but I’ve just been too busy/lazy. Once the weather is nicer, I’ll drop by to order a pair from them.
      I tried Zenny and GlassUSA. Their frames and lenses were not that good. My prescriptions are high and tricky. I need a lot of adjustment on my glasses too. My face is tricky. I wear my glasses everyday and need them to be perfect.

      • January 31, 2018 at 7:01 AM

        You can get 5 pairs mailed to you for free (I’m a very lazy person, ahem millennial…). I just did some more googling on them though, it seems if you have a high prescription it might now be the best idea since some people have had problems with them. People recommend Costco vs WP for those! My own prescription is around +3/+4 for my left/right eye so it’s of similar quality to those super expensive lenses I used to get.

        WP does reimburse $50 for PD if you wanted to get that from the optometrist instead. They also have a 1 year guarantee on the lenses and offer $50 if you need to get an adjustment on the glasses and theres no WP in your vicinity.

      • January 31, 2018 at 8:47 AM

        I didn’t know Warby Parker had retail shops. Interesting.

        I’ve heard similar reports about Zenni and other online glass sellers. They’re cheap for a reason I guess. 😉

        I’m pretty picky about my glasses too. I have astigmatism in both eyes and they have to be *just right* or I’ll get headaches. My latest pair of glasses seems to be really good — they’re super light and don’t put pressure on my nose.

  • January 31, 2018 at 3:55 AM

    Glad that for now I can still do without glasses or contacts. But as you stated, this is not going to last (looking at both my parents). Will have to look into this at that time, enough choices around here. Not sure which one is the cheapest though.
    Definitely a “new” financial topic that I had not thought about before!

    • January 31, 2018 at 4:04 AM

      You lucky dog Cheesy! I’ve been stuck with glasses since I was a kid!

      You’ll get your ‘due’ one day though…. 😉

  • January 31, 2018 at 4:24 AM

    It’s always a good sign when you spend less money on something than Mr. Tako.

    I get all of my glasses via Typically run $30-50. I was fraidy scared buying glasses online, but at those prices, I figured I could throw them away if they stank. They didn’t – lenses perfect and better frames than my last $300 from retailer. I’ve bought 4 pairs from them (across me and a family member) and every pair was great. Only caveat is you should get your optometrist to measure your pupillary distance or you’ll have to do it with a ruler at home (they should do this as part of your prescription, but as soon as you ask, they know you’re buying online so they’re mad at the revenue / extortion loss).
    Paul recently posted…Why I Took My Son to Vegas

    • January 31, 2018 at 8:50 AM

      Thanks for the comments on eyebuydirect Paul! I’m pretty used to high-quality frames, so it’s good to hear that at least some online retailers have a quality product.

      I’ll check them out next year when it’s time for a new pair!

  • January 31, 2018 at 4:39 AM

    I had the same problem. Glasses cost so much and the manufacturing cost is not more than 5$ per one (for the expensive ones).
    So I found this site that gives you all the glasses frame you want with all the special lenses you could possibly need for a fracture of a price.
    I ordered sunglasses with my perscription+ UV protection for less than 30$. The glasses are great and very high quality.

    Here, give it a go:

    • January 31, 2018 at 8:53 AM

      Thanks Eli, I’m very much aware of Zenni. Unfortunately I’ve heard they aren’t that great from numerous people. Your mileage may vary.

      Of course, you’ll still need to visit a physical optometrist to get your prescription as well.

      • February 1, 2018 at 12:18 AM

        I just take my current glasses (which I see perfect with) go to a glasses store and the technician can tell me what number I have in the lenses (if I forget, which I do).
        Well, I am a bit surprised to hear that about zenni.
        Me and my wife bought several pairs this past year. 2 were great, one of them was a bit fuzzy for her so we returned it and got a refund.

  • January 31, 2018 at 5:13 AM

    I switched to Costco a few years ago but there are a lot of great deals on line, I like “seeing” what I buy!
    In Ontario, if you are between 20 & 64 years old, and you have a specific medical condition affecting your eyes, the provincial government will cover the annual eye exam.
    You need to move to Canada Mr. Tako!

    • January 31, 2018 at 8:55 AM

      Indeed! That’s a great benefit I’ve never heard of.

      For now, I think I’m sticking with Costco. 😉

  • January 31, 2018 at 5:39 AM

    Glasses, exams, and contact lenses can get so expensive. I think sometimes the fear that we might not see clearly in the future if we buy cheap glasses and such makes us spend more money on our eyesight. It could be a good investment, but it might not be necessary. I’m not so sure. I spend almost $150 or even more on contact lenses alone. >_<

    • January 31, 2018 at 8:57 AM

      It’s also possible that bad glasses can make your eyesight WORSE.

      It’s worth noting that Costco’s prices for contacts are the cheapest I’ve found online. If anyone knows of a cheaper retailer, please let me know.

  • January 31, 2018 at 6:08 AM

    The information is very helpful, thank you. I just bookmarked this page, as I might need a new pair of glasses next year. Yes, the eyeglasses are ridiculously expensive, and something is wrong. We need some innovative people to disrupt this trend. The same is true for health care. Yesterday, I heard Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon, and Jeff Bezos are teaming up to tackle the health care issue for their employees. That’s great to hear.

    • January 31, 2018 at 9:04 AM

      Hear hear! At least in the United States Luxottica is something of a monopoly. This is why we have $300 frames at many retailers in the U.S.

      I try my best to buy from non-Luxottica retailers. Costco and Walmart would be a couple examples.

      If we look overseas to places like Japan, with less regulation and more competition, glasses and exams dirt cheap.

    • January 31, 2018 at 9:06 AM

      Yup. Next time you’re at the optometrist ask to see the printout from the autorefractor machine. In my case, it nailed down the prescription nearly exactly.

  • January 31, 2018 at 6:30 AM

    I generally agree, but I love love love our optometrist. She is really awesome. She does everything and she is very methodical about the exam. She also coordinate with my glaucoma doctor to keep up to date. We paid $40 for an exam (after insurance) so that’s totally worth it.
    Glasses are way overpriced, though. I just ordered a pair of computer/reading glasses and paid $350 after insurance. I’ll probably order a regular pair through Warby Parker.
    I have never had a good experience with cheap glasses. I tried Zenny, GlassesUSA, and another one. My prescription is high and a bit tricky.

    • January 31, 2018 at 9:09 AM

      Great comments, thanks Joe! Comfort is tricky to predict from online places, so I’m not super excited about the online options. For me, uncomfortable glasses cause headaches and eyestrain.

  • January 31, 2018 at 6:47 AM

    I went with Lasik 4 years ago and love it! Contacts were getting uncomfortable, to the point that they would feel gunky by the end of the day and my eyes would leak. Also I noticed that years I wear contacts often, I would always need a new prescription the following year, but once I gave up contacts my eye prescription were stable and didn’t change after that. As for glasses, I would get headaches from the pressure on my sinus and would worsen during allergy season. I’m so glad for the lasik, no more dealing with headaches more than I have to and it’s worth the cost $3500 for both eyes at Lasik Plus. I know I’ll need reading glasses in a few years, hoping more like a decade, but that’s okay. Those are much cheaper than regular glasses and it’s not something you keep on all the time.

    • January 31, 2018 at 9:10 AM

      Interesting Ms. Khan! I’ve been warned off of Lasik due to my wandering prescription, but over a long period of time I can see why it would be worth it for some people!

  • January 31, 2018 at 6:50 AM

    Our vision had always been covered by work health insurance. However it isn’t part of ACA except for kids, we are thinking about purchasing a VSP plan maybe every other year.

    It is a scam though, almost all high street optometrists are owned by 1 company, luxottica so they pretty much have a monopoly..

    • January 31, 2018 at 9:20 AM

      Insurance has typically covered the cost of my exam (even at $240) and some of the cost of glasses and contacts.

      We’ve been fortunate to still have Mrs. Tako’s healthcare covering the whole family. It won’t always be this way however, so I figured it was time to “smarten up” about high optometric costs.

  • January 31, 2018 at 9:45 AM

    You definitely need to shop around when it comes to glasses and contacts.

    For example, I went to the local optometrists to get my eyes checked last year. At the same time, I was looking at a new pair of glasses and some new contacts. I got quoted a year supply of contacts for like $250, and a Hugo Boss frame for $550, then lenses would cost another $500 (the thickest lenses).

    I was shocked by the prices. So I went to a store in Richmond to check out prices. To my surprise, the same contacts would only cost $150. The same Hugo Boss frame was only $200 with higher index lenses costing about $200. What was even more shocking was the store clerk was throwing a bunch “discounts” at me. In the end, my new pair of glasses only cost about $350.

    Definitely helps to shop around.

  • January 31, 2018 at 2:09 PM

    I have astigmatism in both eyes as well and have probably overpaid a bit in the past. But the prices I pay are closer to your Costco amounts than they are the others. My insurance also covers some.

    I think I’m living proof that beta carotene is indeed great for eyesight. I’ve always packed my lunch at work, but I never really ate carrots. I decided to experiment about 10 years ago and bring carrots to work every day. Starting about 5 years ago my eyesight has been getting slightly better after years and years of decline. It was measurable enough at my last examination to change my prescription.

    Needless to say I eat carrots every day. As far as I’m concerned it works.

  • January 31, 2018 at 3:25 PM

    Thanks for the warning. I’m way overdue for an eye exam. It’s been at least a decade! I’ve been lazy about it because I only wear specs to drive.

    Also, I am human or cephalopod and have checked the appropriate box.
    Financial Velociraptor recently posted…Write Puts Target (TGT)

  • January 31, 2018 at 6:54 PM

    I’m happy to pay for a thorough eye exam. Things like detached retinas and glaucoma are not to be fooled around with. But as for buying glasses from the optometrist’s retail department — I agree they are overpriced.

  • January 31, 2018 at 7:55 PM

    Your vision continues to get worse each year? How strong is your power?

    I’m 44 and am pretty nearsighted with -6.50 diopters in each eye. My vision got to this level by the age of 15-16 (after first getting glasses at the age of 9) and then stabilized at this level for the next nearly 30 years. I buy disposable contacts but tend to use them longer than the 1-2 week disposing period, more like 2-3 months and haven’t a problem. Keeping them clean and in good condition seems to do the trick. The cost per box of 6 is about $20 so the annual costs aren’t too bad. I get a set of glasses every 10 or more years at the latest cost of about $350 as I want to get the high density lenses and light frames. I only wear glasses when taking a long flight or if I’m otherwise getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night since that seems to irritate my eyes.

    Mr. Tako, you should read up on fighting myopia naturally and a concept called active focus. Basically our eyeball length grows when we are myopic and this likely is due to our eye muscles responding to signals of focus or blur. By stretching our eye muscles there is some evidence that myopia can be reversed slowly or at least held in check. I tried getting contacts 0.50 diopters less than my normal prescription and it was very blurry at first. After 1-2 weeks things got sharper so that they were fairly tolerable. A few months later I reduced another 0.5 diopters and the blur was quite bad. Kept up with that for several weeks and then went back to the earlier setting that then seemed to be very sharp.

    You are right, with less light vision tends to get blurrier. Trying to read and pull the book a bit further away from my eyes without contacts to stimulate the eye muscles seems to help too. You do need to work at it for a while.

    It could be possible that you are overcorrecting your eyes requiring too much sharpness and that in turn is driving your vision to get worse. If your distance vision is super sharp then you can expect your close reading to be strained, especially as you get older. Try a softer focus and see what it’s like.


  • January 31, 2018 at 9:56 PM

    I got so tired of paying for contact lens fitting, contacts and glasses that I finally scheduled my Lasik surgery for next week! I luckily had put aside HSA money so the cost isn’t as bad. I completely agree with you that optical stores are sharks! And this is coming from someone who worked a high end optical store in the city. Beware and definitely shop around!

  • February 2, 2018 at 4:21 AM

    I caught myself over paying as well. In fact, that $280 is roughly what we’ve been paying at the Opthamologist. UNGHHHH (grunted like a Marvel comics’ grunt.) I signed us up for my employer’s super cheap vision plan this year. For $5 a month our annual exams are covered now.

    Since I get occasional bouts of iritis, I need the Opthamologist level of discipline. The strip mall optometrist isn’t going to have the tools in their toolkit for me sack of woes.

  • February 2, 2018 at 8:33 AM

    I have a medical condition that requires I see an ophthalmologist 4x a year. Her office does my vision checks annually for $50. I don’t buy my vision insurance since what it would save me is almost exactly the cost of the premiums. I also do not buy new frames every year. I have new lenses (high index, all the goodies) put in my old frames. Since I don’t buy high fashion frames that change constantly they pretty much all look the same. I take good care of my glasses so they frames last and still look good. Used the same pair of frames once for 8 years.

  • February 2, 2018 at 8:49 AM

    “As Carlos Sicupira once said, “Costs are like fingernails; you have to cut them constantly.””

    LOVE this quote!

    I’m one of these odd people that used to need glasses in college, but since then it’s gone back to almost 20/20 vision! So weird. So I don’t need glasses, but Wanderer has needed them since he was a baby (I’m ALMOST exaggerating). Luckily he got them covered by work insurance, but now we’re paying out of pocket but so far we haven’t had to spend more than $200/year for contacts.

  • February 2, 2018 at 12:48 PM

    Hi 🙂 I did LASIK around 12 years ago and the results were awesome. I had perfect vision for 10 years!
    2 years ago I noticed that in the dark I was seeing things far away from me a little fuzzy. I now need glasses again, particularly when I’m driving at night. However I am fine during the day. LASIK May be pricey but it’s a worthwhile investment in yourself 😉

  • February 2, 2018 at 12:53 PM

    Here in Germany, the cost for my eye exam (glasses) were 0 € at the local store of the market leader for eyewear in Germany, Fielmann AG (which is also one of my stock holdings I consider very conservative and worth holding long term).

    The stores are always crowded of people who need glasses and/or contacts. Yes I am one of them, but I love it as a Fielmann Shareholder :).

  • February 4, 2018 at 12:28 AM

    I think my family couldn’t afford insurance for my glasses so I didn’t get any official glasses until my 2nd year of university? And I’m pretty blind…-4.00 in both eyes so I needed them more than alot of people. I think they hurt me academically and it’s always a painful, embarrassing issue. They really are sharks.

    We paid $39 dollars total after insurance for my glasses 🙂 very proud of that. Bonlook was the website I used. I didn’t get an annual exam I love my glasses, they’re so cute, makes me unblind, and they’re inexpensive. There’s no branding on them… like Gucci or Prada… gosh Prada’s profit margins must be insane!! A pair of glasses from them is like $300-700! Fools part with their money the fastest. 😛

  • February 11, 2018 at 3:48 PM

    I go to my eye doctor because my sister and brother work there. I’ve been going there since I was in high school and I like that they have my history.
    I did get glasses through costco a few years ago and had them from 4 years. The frame started to lose the coating and chip. I do have the advantage of having my siblings to show me the discount rack and my sister for the thumbs up of approval.
    If the frames are holding up, you can often get the lenses replaced. When my eyes were changing more rapidly I know we did that a few times.
    Thanks for an informative post!

  • February 12, 2018 at 11:30 AM

    “Costs are like fingernails; you have to cut them constantly.” This quote is everything. I’m happy you found an affordable place to get your eye exam. I love Costco for their pizza.


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